I believe that God will reconcile us all to himself in some way.

The Christian scriptures clearly set out the hope of eternal life to the Christian. I’m not sure that the early Christians were any more in agreement about everyone else than we are today.

If one believes that Revelation (20:14 for example) is an inspired doctrine about the afterlife (rather than a message of hope in symbolic language to 1st century readers) and if one takes the symbolic language about Gehenna in the Gospels as both literal and authentic, then there is some support for the common Christian notion that non-Christians go to hell. And indeed, when I was a kid, people in my Baptist church thought many (but not all) Catholics were going to hell, too. There is a huge black and orange billboard on Interstate 85 with the phrase:

But I think that it is clear from the teachings of Jesus that God does not DESIRE that anyone perish, and I for one pray “Thy will be done”.

If any human being captured and tortured with unspeakably horrible tortures masses of their fellow human beings for years and years, we would consider that person the most EVIL person imaginable. Yet some Christians can somehow justify in their minds an image of God who they believe does the same thing only eternally! But people can dress up these things in religious language and spout theology and scripture and make black into white.

As far as the Jews are concerned, the scriptures say that the covenant God made with the Jews is eternal, so I find ample support for the eternal salvation of the Jews in scriptures. And I think that most main-line denominations would agree with me on this.

There are a few tantalizing hints of universal salvation in the New Testament that suggest that at least some NT Christians believed that way. One is in Acts (3:21) where it talks about the “universal restoration” [NRSV] or the “restitution of all things” [KJV] and later 1 Corinthians 15:22

for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

The question for the context of that last scripture is whether all mankind belongs to Christ or whether only those who acknowledge Christ belong to him.

There is another possibility opened by references in 1 Peter such as 4:6

For this reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they have been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

This is particularly significant to me because it points out the difference between salvation in the flesh and salvation of the spirit.

As I see it, faith in God frees one (on this earth) from sin and the fear of death. This earthly salvation makes one a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven (which Jesus said “is among you” to his followers). This earthly salvation is proclaimed by the church and is found in the story of Jesus by the Christian. Some form of earthly salvation (freedom from the power of sin and the fear of death) is also found in other world religions, for example Buddhism.

Christians tend to equate earthly salvation and heavenly salvation and this is true for them. However, for the non-Christian, eternal salvation is a different process.

If the Christian view of the afterlife is correct, then there must be some transformation from mortality to immortality and from corruption (sinfulness) to incorruption (sinlessness). The brief text from 1 Peter suggests that this process of eternal salvation is made available to all after death. (This view is quite explicit in Mormon doctrine, by the way.)

Even the Catholic Church is beginning to speak in more inclusive language about adherents to other religions. This from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 843:

The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions the search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

and 847

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience–those too may achieve eternal salvation.

The objection I have to the Catholic statement is that it implies a salvation of works, which I think is excluded according to the New Testament. Still I welcome what I see as a responsible position from the Catholic side.

It is interesting to look at the New Testament and see just where “hell” is mentioned and where it is not. One will not find hell mentioned at all in John’s gospel, nor in the epistles under that name. The Synoptic Gospels do mention hell, in this case the garbage dump Gehenna, or Hades in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. No mention whatever is made of hell in any of St. Paul’s letters. The two mentions (Hades) in Acts refer to where Jesus was between his death and resurrection. Hebrews has no mention of hell and the only other New Testament references are in James (Gehenna, in a metaphor for the tongue), in 2nd Peter (tartaroo) and of course in Revelation (Hades).

A commission of the Anglican Church recently published a report denying a literal hell, rather defining hell as non-existence. This is, I think, a step in the right direction. But I think that God will win a total victory over sin and death–this meaning that no one will be wasted and all will be redeemed.

(Col 1:19-20 NRSV) For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, {20} and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

(Ephesians 1:9 KJV) Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

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